The Rockies designated Jamie Moyer for assignment this week, likely spelling the end of his short run in Colorado. A year removed from undergoing Tommy John surgery, Moyer showed some positive signs over his 10 starts with the Rockies, but the team was discouraged with the overall results and opted to head in a different direction.
While the designation for assignment doesn’t preclude the team from hanging onto the player, it seems unlikely that the end result here involves the 49-year old Moyer pitching for a Rockies’ minor league affiliate.
Whether he is viewed as more of a novelty than an asset — and at this point in his career it’s hard to view him as a significant contributor — Moyer will probably receive some interest throughout the league. He might not get to start many more games, but some team will take a low-risk flier on him in some capacity if he decides to keep pitching.
While getting cut by a 21-29 team currently 10.5 games out of first place might signal it’s time to hang up the cleats, Moyer may still have something left to offer whichever team brings him aboard.
His surface numbers were fairly ugly this season. He barely averaged more than five innings per start, gave up home runs at an alarming rate of 1.8 per nine innings and posted a very poor 5.70 ERA. Moyer also allowed six unearned runs, giving him 40 runs allowed over 53.2 innings and a 6.70 RA.
Typically one to keep hitters off-balance and post lower batting averages on balls in play, Moyer’s .342 BABIP ranked fifth-worst in the National League. He has a career .283 BABIP against, and was even more impressive in that regard since the turn of the millennium.
Only 47 pitchers have thrown 1,500 or more innings since 2000, and Moyer’s .277 BABIP ranks as the seventh-lowest in that span, behind Barry Zito, Ted Lilly, Johan Santana, Tim Wakefield, Carlos Zambrano and Jarrod Washburn. However, what makes Moyer’s mark even more impressive is that he has thrown 2,124 innings in that span, far more than the 1,500 qualifier. Only 15 pitchers have logged 2,000 frames since 2000, and only Zito produced a lower BABIP than Moyer in that group. In fact, he even posted a .236 BABIP over 19 starts in his age-47 season.
His .342 BABIP over the small sample of 53.2 innings led to numbers that could make it seem like Moyer is washed up, but his peripherals were fairly impressive given that he is 49 years old and throws 78 miles per hour.
His first 10 starts were similar in several respects to his 2007 season with the Phillies. He has a 6.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 right now, compared to 6.0 and 2.9 in 2007. Using batters faced in the denominator, he struck out and walked more batters than usual now and then as well. In both years his strand rate was 69 percent. His batted ball profile was similar as well, with 40-42 percent groundballs and negligible differences elsewhere. But he posted a .303 BABIP in 2007, closer to the league average than his career mark, but far better than his current performance.
Then again, he is one year removed from elbow reconstruction surgery and we’ve seen numerous examples of pitchers taking a good several months to get back in the swing of things after a year off. Moyer’s situation is being treated differently because of his age and his approach, but it’s unlikely that he would post that high of a BABIP over a full season. It’s also unlikely that, away from Coors Field, he would continue to serve up gopherballs at this ferocious of a rate. On the other hand, he is striking batters out at a rate higher than he has over the last few years while inducing grounders at an above average clip. These attributes have value and are more likely to persist over the long haul than the numbers suggesting he is finished as a successful major league pitcher.
In spite of this, Moyer might be more attractive to teams as a long reliever and occasional starter, or as a left-handed specialist. Since 2009, he has a .275 BABIP, 50 percent groundball rate and 4.1 K/BB ratio against lefties. His ERA and estimators are still impacted by his higher home run rate — 1.6 per nine in this split — but he could still help a team out in that role.
The problem is that teams will likely have short leashes with Moyer, and if he doesn’t sustain some level of success after his first few appearances — when, as a starter, he would have the most impact on ticket sales — he will find himself released or DFA’d.
It’s unlikely that Jamie Moyer pitches for any one team for an extended period of time from here on out. But even at 49 years old he was far from the worst starting pitcher in the majors, and could help a few clubs as a long reliever, second lefty out of the pen, occasional starter and quasi-pitching coach.
Already the oldest to do just about everything else, Moyer looks like he still has a little bit left in the tank and will get another chance to latch on elsewhere. At this stage, though, he needs to ask himself if the potential for shifting from team to team is worth it in order to achieve his seeming goal of pitching to the age of 50 years old.
Regardless, he has had one of the more storied careers in history, deserves accolades for even attempting this comeback, let alone succeeding with a strong spring showing and a roster spot out of camp.
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